Effective Character Development

Woven into the curriculum at Birchwood School of Hawken is the belief that personal character can become the most vital factor in the success and fulfillment of an adolescent. Emphasis on character development and habit formation is rooted in Birchwood’s philosophy about human nature. We hold that to become fully human is to become virtuous, generally defined by the Greek cardinal virtues of justice, courage, self-control, and practical wisdom. These virtues are organized into two categories:

1. Being just toward self
2. Being just toward others

Beginning in the early grades Birchwood students are taught that they have a responsibility to themselves to develop their own talents and aptitudes. Each child will:

1. Set and maintain goals 
2. Develop good work habits and productive attitudes to realize their goals


In being just toward themselves, children will also discover that they possess the habit of self-reflection. They will come to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and identify problems or opportunities that lie before them. Habits of self-reflection will lead to action and achievement. The result of children who are just toward themselves is that they will continually grow and flourish.

Social Participation

Living a virtuous life also has an interpersonal or social component. Personal growth and development will be limited if it is not joined with social responsibility. Birchwood teaches that a virtuous child is a child who has learned to be a compassionate and productive member of society. Birchwood students will understand the “role” they need to play among friends and classmates, and that personal fulfillment goes hand in hand with healthy and productive social participation.

Character Development Requires

1. Teaching 
Which illuminates virtue. Children learn virtue through examples, observing the lives of virtuous people whether from history or current events. Through teaching, students come to know what is good and visualize models of good. This happens during morning “openings,” a 15-minute inspirational time that highlights the lives of great men and women in history who model virtuous behavior through stories. Stories focus on the work and achievements of famous individuals or describe ordinary people in our community whose good deeds are worthy to emulate. These stories carry the power to inscribe lifelong lessons on children’s hearts, that abide and remain potent. Often these stories are supplemented with proverbs and famous quotations that help frame virtuous behavior into memorable language. 

2. Training
Which forges habits of virtue over time, and makes the teaching of virtue practical and real. A comprehensive approach to curriculum is used in which students receive academic programming that requires their best efforts for success. Whether of average or above average ability, students must be academically challenged. Their workload is a vehicle to teach them how to be planned, organized, and self-disciplined. Birchwood’s homework policy also plays an important role in this systematic program. Homework increases the time spent on task, but equally is a tool to teach skills in planning, organization, and self-discipline. 

3. Environment 
Which celebrates achievement, honors and respects hard work and effort, and extols the place of virtue and good character. This culture relies on support from teachers, parents, and students, and rewards social consciousness, care, and compassion. Birchwood is a place where it is “cool” to work hard, persevere, excel academically, and become a productive young person. Just by being in the school environment, students are taught good character.
“Birchwood’s strong foundation will be with my children always and has set them on a path to be successful no matter where their future takes them.”
Birchwood Parent

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